Sunday, December 06, 2009

From Jerusalem ma'abara to trendy restaurant

Photo: Lauren Gelfond Feldinger

Moshe Basson is a chef and restauranteur in Jerusalem. His earliest memories were of the Talpiot transit camp, or ma'abara, which was home to his and many other families of Jewish refugees from Iraq. Basson's ambition is to open a m'abara museum, he tells the Jerusalem Post:

"Basson was born in Iraq in 1950 and grew up in an immigrant transit camp in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood. His parents opened a bakery in the neighboring Arab village of Beit Safafa, and the scents of bread, cake and local cooking infuse his memories.

"His first Eucalyptus restaurant was opened in 1986 around the namesake tree that he planted on Tu Bishvat as a child. Since then, he has been known as a food folklorist, a wild and native food activist, and as 'the biblicalchef.'

"All the Jewish people from Amara, near Basra, came to Jerusalem. Some, like my great grandmother came a year or two before us and lived in Musrara, and the rest of my family came during Passover in 1951. We lived up to seven people in Talpiot in a seven-square-meter tin shack with no floor. You were lucky if you had a proper floor. The refugee shacks made from wood were the luxurious ones, like the ones in Kiryat Hayovel. By us, there was only one tap for water for 5,000 people, so there was always a line, 24-hours-a-day. The worst thing was the stinking so-called toilet, a hole in the ground for everyone. There were many bad smells, but I remember the smell of sweet halla and black bread baking in the oven.

"A lot of native Israelis don't know about the ma'abarot; for them refugees are Palestinian. I am anxious to build a ma'abara museum.

"When we moved to a 16-square-meter stone house, with a toilet outside with a seat and a small garden, it was like a villa. There were all the fruit trees, vegetables and chickens you could imagine. I remember the smell of the freshly ground allspice and dry etrog my father would add to the smelling tobacco, or the other herbs that he would bring to the synagogues at the end of Shabbat. I also remember the smell of the meats my neighbor, auntie Zeinab in Beit Safafa, made and how I fantasized to eat her [non-kosher] dishes, like Moses who sees the Promised Land and cannot enter.

"I grew up in the traditions of the east. The traditions of my Jewish ancestors since the days of the prophets and kings blend with the traditions of the Palestine Arabs and the traditions of Iraq."

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